On 23 March the House agreed to a revised sitting calendar that provided for the next sitting to be on 11 August, but on 2 April the Speaker notified all Members setting 8 April as the alternative date for the next meeting. On 8 April, the focus of the House was on four bills to implement further elements of the Government’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic. The format for the day was similar to that of the sitting on 23 March.
Special arrangements for the operation of the Chamber
Special seating arrangements were again put in place to enable social distancing between Members. Fifty-nine Members were present, compared to 90 Members on 23 March. Pairing arrangements reduced the numbers during divisions, mitigating health risks. Several of the paired Members were in the Chamber at other times.
The press viewing gallery was closed, other than to a small number of photographers. Media representatives had access to the second-floor enclosed galleries. There was no access to the galleries, or to the Parliament building, for the general public.
Proceedings commenced, as usual, with the Speaker making an acknowledgement of country and reading prayers. He then reported messages from the Senate returning 14 bills which had passed at the previous sitting without amendment or requests, and three messages from the Governor-General notifying assent to 26 bills.
Coronavirus Economic Response Package
Messages from the Governor-General recommending appropriations for the purposes of two Appropriation bills (Nos. 5 and No. 6) 2019-2020, were announced.
The Treasurer introduced the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Bill 2020 and three related bills, including the two Appropriation bills. As foreshadowed by the Prime Minister, the package provided for the operation of the $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. In the usual way, the Appropriation bills proposed appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for ordinary annual services of the Government (No. 5), and services that are not for the ordinary annual services of the Government (No. 6).
Following the Treasurer’s second reading speech, 17 Members made contributions during the cognate debate. After Question Time, the Leader of the House also presented letters received from two non-aligned Members who, while refraining from attending, wished to have their views on the bills reported. The Shadow Treasurer moved an amendment to the question on the second reading and eight further Opposition amendments were moved to that proposed amendment. None of the amendments opposed the second reading. Debate continued until Question Time.
After Question Time, when consideration resumed, the Speaker proposed that the questions on the amendments be put in the form, ‘that the amendment be disagreed to’, which meant that Members might not need to move across the Chamber to vote. The questions were put and each was carried on division 29:24. On the original Opposition amendment, the Speaker put the question using what was once the usual form: ‘That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question’. The question was carried on division and again a ‘crossover’ division was avoided. One question on the second reading of all bills was put and carried on the voices.
Consideration in detail proceeded in accordance with the resolution and the bills were taken as a whole. An Opposition amendment was considered and the question again put in the form ‘that the amendment be disagreed to’. This question was carried on division. The question on the third reading was then put and carried on the voices. Messages from the Governor-General recommending appropriations in relation to the two coronavirus bills were reported.
Following presentation of committee reports, the House resolved, on motion by the Leader of the House, that leave of absence be given to every Member to the date of its next sitting. At 4.29 pm the House then suspended to wait for the Senate’s consideration of the bills. The Senate passed the package of bills without amendment or requests. When proceedings were resumed at 10.51 pm, the Speaker immediately adjourned the House to a date and hour to be fixed, in accordance with the resolution agreed to earlier.
As provided by the resolution, debate was interrupted at 2.00 pm and Question Time commenced as usual. The Prime Minister informed the House that, due to the current circumstances, nine Ministers would be absent from Question Time and that certain Ministers who would take questions on their behalf. All but one question concerned the response to the coronavirus. A single point of order was taken.
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